The concept of rest and recovery are finally starting to
gain some traction in the CrossFit world.
More and more top athletes have acknowledged the importance of icing
their muscles between workouts, taking days off, and even de-loading their
bodies between cycles of training.
For many though, these ideas remain abstract concepts without
organization or purpose. You may
have heard that you should ice or do some active recovery, but don’t really
know what that means or how to really go about it. The following is the cliff’s notes on what to do, when to do
it, and why.
This includes any sort of mobility work, band flossing, foam rolling, lacrosse
ball trigger point seeking, or general range of motion improvement.
These types of activities are most
effectively employed in preparation for a workout or activity.
Attacking tight hip flexors right
before you leave the gym to go sit in your car or at your desk and re-tighten
them isn’t pointless
, but it’s damn
If you only have a finite
amount of time in your schedule then using it effectively is critical. Creating space in your joints and
balance in your muscles should be a pre-workout activity because it will
improve your performance. That’s
what most of these exercises are designed to do anyway. Now, there’s nothing that says you can’t work on your gristly spots before
bed or at any other time of the day; I’m just saying if you had to pick the
perfect time to do it, before your WOD is it.
This includes static stretching, limbic release, and anything designed to relax
your soft tissues or impart a permanent change in flexibility or range of
These methodologies are
best employed following a workout or as a dedicated session in themselves.
Flushing your system of toxins left
over from the chemical process of muscle contraction is a must if you’re
serious about limiting soreness and speeding your recovery post-workout.
The most basic form of this practice is
the age-old “cool down” that every P.E. coach you ever had made you do some
activity designed to slowly lower your heart-rate and prevent blood from
pooling. This also includes foam
rolling or light massage designed to remove any adhesions between your muscles and
fascia, and calm your central nervous system in general.
This includes taking ice baths, salt baths, or using ice
packs for local treatment of sore areas.
The fastest way to heal a minor injury (tendonitis, sprain, soreness,
etc) is to circulate nutrient rich blood to the affected area.
Icing is super effective at
accomplishing this because your body’s first response to lower tissue
temperatures is the send blood to the area to re-heat it.
This means that without any additional
strain to the injury/sore spot you have forced your body to send the nutrient
rich blood it needs to heal itself. Expanding on this practice by using the contrast of hot and cold to play
with the dilation of your blood vessels only heightens the effect. Salt baths work a little differently
because they help replenish the body’s mineral levels. The most popular and effective method
for this is to use Epsom Salts.
These salts are a great source of magnesium and have significant
The appropriate time to do ice or bath is post workout or
between workouts. In a sense, it
can serve the same purpose as the flushing techniques mentioned above but
without the added impact of continued exercise. Hence, it makes the most sense to utilize it when the body’s
tissues need it the most—when they are inflamed.
This is self explanatory, but a short paragraph iterating
why we should do this is warranted.
Breakdowns in muscle tissue take 36-48 hours to heal, yet Crossfitters
love to train so much that we often ignore this basic need to recover.
We invent solutions and rationalize our
way around the simple fact that our bodies will not improve unless we give them
time to heal.
If you’re about to
argue that you alternate movement patterns from day to day, let me stop
Unless you are separating
upper body/lower body between days (which I know you’re not because you
wouldn’t be reading this blog if you did) you most likely are using your hip
and shoulder joint every day you train.
“But wait, I did pullups day 1 and presses day 2, so I pulled day 1 and
pushed day 2.
Even though you primarily used your
lats and biceps day 1 and your shoulders and triceps day 2, you still torqued
the shit out of your shoulder joint two days in a row.
No muscles work independently of each
other so arguing that because the main movers were different means you “rested”
Why do you think every
bodybuilder has tendonitis and ligament damage?
They think in terms of muscles rather than in terms of
Further, it’s not just your soft tissues that need to bounce
back after a tough training day.
Your central nervous and endocrine systems take a beating doing what we
do. Never taking rest days leads
to elevated cortisol levels (a condition that if made chronic can lead to all
kinds of problems) and a dullness that limits your ability to focus and put
forth full effort. There’s only so
much tread on your tires and taking a day off after you put your body through
the wringer isn’t too much to ask.
De-Load Weeks & Active Rest
Every 4-6 weeks you should be taking a week off.
Yes, even YOUR body needs an extended break from
Maybe your muscles don’t
feel like it, but your tendons, ligaments, and even your endocrine system can
really use the break from time to time.
Everything in the universe operates in wavelike periods and training is
You need to account
for your body’s need to lull.
how do you de-load?
plenty of ways to take advantage of a week without your typically high
intensity training regiment.
first way is to employ active rest.
This term is thrown around a lot, but misunderstood most of the time.
The operative word here is still
Going for a 5 mile run is
not active rest.
Going for a 5
mile walk would be.
You want to
avoid elevating your heart rate too much and definitely not put any serious
strain on your joints or connective tissues.
Light stretching, corrective exercise programs, low impact
activities like biking or swimming... these would all be appropriate.
Another way to attack a de-load week is
to play some sports for fun.
that aren’t too hard on the body are ideal—think golf, large group volleyball,
paddle boarding, playing h-o-r-s-e, etc.
This is a way to keep your body moving, which is key, but not require it
to dip into its energy reserves. Yet another way to pass the time during a de-load week is to practice a
skill or set of skills. Don’t go
doing 30 muscle ups for time every day and call it skill work, but practicing
hand balancing for a few minutes here and there during the course of the day
would work just fine.
It should be mentioned that you will feel the effects of
your de-load week the first couple days afterwards. The negative - your conditioning will take a little hit, but
rest assured it will bounce back quickly.
The positive - your strength will invariably go up and your body will
feel amazingly fresh. You will
also get injured far less often.
Remember, fitness is a long-term game. Dialing in your recovery isn’t going to
win you the CrossFit Games or magically make you lose 20 lbs. But ignoring the body’s need to recover will
absolutely prevent you from having the opportunity to do either. Not to mention the opportunity to
continue training late into your life.
Think about it.